Neonatologists are specialized pediatricians who provide care for newborn babies, generally within a neonatal intensive care unit - these doctors specialize in caring for premature infants immediately after birth.

Watch an Overview of Neonatology

About Neonatology

Neonatology is the title of the medical specialty that provides medical care for newborn babies, usually within neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). In NICUs, neonatologists provide care for both full-term and premature infants suffering from a variety of high-risk and complex medical problems. Neonatologists may become involved in a case after the baby is born, or they may begin to plan for a high-risk birth before the baby is delivered in the event that a potential medical problem has been identified beforehand. These highly specialized physicians often serve as part of a multidisciplinary medical team, working in tandem with obstetricians, family doctors and/or pediatricians.

The potential complications faced by full term infants can vary drastically from those that have been born premature. Full term complications may include hyperbilirubinemia, meningitis, pneumonia, various birth defects (including congenital heart defects, malformations of the gastrointestinal system, and malformations of the brain, among others), blood infections, various types of genetic or hereditary disorders and complications resulting from perinatal asphyxia (such as kidney or heart failure and seizures), among others.

Premature infants usually suffer from underdeveloped systems and organs that require constant monitoring and the expertise of neonatologists. Underdevelopments can include those of the lungs, brain, stomach, intestines, liver or other structures and can result in fatal consequences if left untreated or undiagnosed. Many premature babies are born with underdeveloped immune systems, so extra care must be taken to ensure they do not contract potentially-fatal infections.

Neonatology Education & Training

The education and training required to become a neonatologist requires a rigorous program of study. After completion of a four year bachelor’s degree, the student must earn an MD or DO medical degree. After graduating from medical school, the physician must complete a three year residency in the specialty of pediatrics. During the residency, the physician takes part in clinical rotations to diagnose and treat patients while under the supervision of experienced pediatricians.

Following successful completion of the residency, the physician must complete a three year fellowship in the area of neonatology. During the neonatology fellowship, the physician cares for sick infants throughout neonatal intensive care units while under the supervision of experienced neonatologists. During the fellowship, neonatologists are trained in all of the basic skills of the profession.

Neonatologists may seek double board certification in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine from the American Board of Pediatrics. Neonatologists must hold a valid medical license from the state in which they practice.